Communist Party of Indonesia
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The Communist Party of Indonesia (Indonesian: Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI) was a communist party in Indonesia that existed throughout the mid-20th century. It was the largest non-ruling communist party in the world prior to being eradicated in 1965 and banned in the following year. The party counted 2 million members in the 1955 elections with 16 percent of the national vote and close to 30 percent of the votes in East Java. During most of the period immediately following independence until the eradication of the PKI in 1965, the PKI was a legal party operating openly in Indonesia’s political system.
|Founded||23 May 1914 (as Indies Social Democratic Association)|
23 May 1920 (as Communist Union of the Indies)
|Banned||12 March 1966|
|Youth wing||People's Youth|
|Membership (1960)||3 million|
|International affiliation||Comintern (until 1943)|
|Hammer and Sickle|
An important early organization was founded by Dutch socialist Henk Sneevliet and another Indies socialist who basically form harbor labor in 1914, under the name Indies Social Democratic Association (in Dutch: Indische Sociaal-Democratische Vereeniging, ISDV). ISDV was constituted essentially by the 85 members of the two Dutch socialist parties, SDAP and Socialist Party of Netherlands who would later become communist SDP, residing in the Dutch East Indies leadership. The Dutch members of the ISDV introduced Marxist ideas to educated Indonesians looking for ways to oppose colonial rule.
In October 1915, ISDV began a publication in Dutch, Het Vrije Woord (The Free Word). The editor was Adolf Baars. The ISDV did not demand independence at the time of its formation. At this point, ISDV had around 100 members; only three were Indonesian. However, it rapidly moved into a radical, anti-capitalist direction. When Sneevliet moved ISDV's headquarters from Surabaya to Semarang, ISDV began attracting many natives from like-minded religious, nationalist and other activist movements whom had been sprouting throughout the Dutch Indies since 1900. ISDV under Sneevliet became increasingly incompatible with the SDAP leadership in the Netherlands, who distanced themselves from the ISDV, beginning to label them as the "faking" Peoples Council (Volksraad). In 1917 the reformist section of ISDV broke away, and formed their own Indies Social Democratic Party. In 1917, ISDV launched its own first publication in Indonesian, Soeara Merdeka (The Voice of Freedom).
Sneevliet's ISDV saw the legacy of the October Revolution as the path to follow in Indonesia. The group made inroads amongst Dutch sailors and soldiers stationed in the colony. 'Red Guards' were formed, and within three months they numbered 3,000. In late 1917, soldier and sailors revolted in the Surabaya naval base of the archipelago, and formed the soviets. The colonial authorities suppressed the Surabaya soviets and the ISDV. Dutch leaders of ISDV were sent back to the Netherlands, including Sneevliet. The leaders of the soldiers uprising were given sentences of 40 years in prison.
Meanwhile, the ISDV established a bloc within the anti-colonialist Sarekat Islam (Islamic Union) organization. Many SI members like from Surabaya, Semaun and from Solo Darsono were attracted by Sneevliet's ideas. As a result of Sneevliet's "bloc within" strategy, many SI members were persuaded to establish the more revolutionary Marxist-dominated Sarekat Rakjat (People's Union).
ISDV continued working in a clandestine manner. It launched another publication, Soeara Rakyat (People's Voice). After the involuntary departure of several Dutch cadres, in combination with the work inside the Sarekat Islam, the membership had moved from Dutch majority to Indonesian majority. By 1919 it only had 25 Dutch members, out of a total of less than 400.
Establishment and growthEdit
At the congress of ISDV on 23 May 1920 in Semarang, it took the name Perserikatan Komunis di Hindia (PKH; Communist Union of the Indies). Semaun was the party chairman and Darsono vice-chairman. The secretary, treasurer and three of the five committee members were Dutch. PKH was the first Asian communist party to become a section of the Communist International. Henk Sneevliet represented the party at the second congress of the Communist International 1921.
In the period leading up to the Sarekat Islam's sixth congress in 1921, members became aware of Sneevliet's strategy and took moves to stop it. Agus Salim, the organisation's secretary, introduced a motion banning SI members from holding dual membership of other parties. Despite opposition from Tan Malaka and Semaun, the motion passed, forcing the communists to change tactics. At the same time, the Dutch colonial authorities introduced more restrictions on political activity, and Sarekat Islam decided to focus more on religious matters, leaving the communists as the only active nationalist organisation.
With Semaun away in Moscow attending a Far Eastern Labour Conference in early 1922, Tan Malaka tried to turn a strike of government pawnshop workers into a national strike to include all Indonesian labour unions. This failed, Tan Malaka was arrested and given a choice between internal or external exile. He chose the latter and left for Russia.
In May 1922, Semaun returned after seven months in Russia and began to organize all labour unions into one organization. On 22 September, the Union of Indonesian Labour Organizations (Persatuan Vakbonded Hindia) was formed.
At the fifth Comintern congress in 1924, it was emphasized that "the top priority of communist parties is to gain control of trades unions" as there could be no successful revolution without this. The PKH began concentrate on unions, decided discipline needed improving, and demanded the establishment of a Soviet Republic of Indonesia.
In 1924 the party name was changed once again, to Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI, Communist Party of Indonesia).
In May 1925, the Exec Committee of Comintern in a plenary session ordered communists in Indonesia to form a united anti-imperialist front with non-communist nationalist organizations, but extremist elements dominated by Alimin & Musso called for a revolution to overthrow the Dutch colonial government. At a conference in Prambanan, Central Java, communist-controlled trades unions decided the revolution would start with a strike by railroad workers that would signal a general strike and then a revolution would start. This would lead to the PKI replacing the colonial government.
The plan was for the revolution to begin in Padang, Indonesia, but a government security clampdown at the beginning of 1926 that saw the end of the right to assembly and the arrests of PKI members forced the party to go deeper underground. Splits among PKI leaders as to the timing and course of the revolution resulted in poor planning. Tan Malaka, at the time Comintern's agent for Southeast Asia and Australia did not agree with the plot, partly because he believed the PKI had insufficient mass support. As a result of these divisions, in June 1926, the revolution was postponed.
However, there was a limited revolt in Batavia (as Jakarta was then known), which broke out on 12 November. Similar actions took place in Padang, Bantam and Surabaya. In Batavia, the revolt was crushed within a day or two, and after a few weeks it had been comprehensively defeated throughout the country.
As a result of the failed revolution, 13,000 people were arrested, 4,500 imprisoned, 1,308 interned, and 823 exiled to Digul, West New Guinea. Several died while in captivity. Many non-communist political activists were also targeted by the colonial authorities, under the pretext of suppressing the communist rebellion. The party was outlawed by the Dutch East Indies government in 1927. The PKI went underground and Dutch, and later Japanese, surveillance ensured that it was never a disciplined or coherent organisation for the remainder of the pre-war period.
During the initial period of illegality PKI kept a somewhat lower profile, with much of its leadership imprisoned. In 1935 the PKI leader Musso returned from his exile in Moscow to reorganize the underground, or "illegal" PKI. His stay in Indonesia was however rather brief. The party now worked within various fronts, such as Gerindo and trade unions. In the Netherlands PKI started working amongst Indonesian students within the nationalist organization Perhimpunan Indonesia, an organization which was soon to be under the control of the PKI.
The PKI re-emerged on the political scene after the Japanese surrender in 1945, and it actively took part in the struggle for independence from the Netherlands. Many armed units were under PKI control or influence. Although PKI militias played an important role in fighting against Dutch, President Sukarno was concerned the growing influence of PKI would eventually threaten his position. Moreover, the growth of PKI troubled the more right-wing sectors of the Indonesian polity as well as some foreign powers, especially the vigorously anti-communist United States. Thus the relationship between the PKI and other forces also fighting for independence was generally a difficult one.
In February 1948 PKI and the Socialist Party (Partai Sosialis) formed a joint front, People's Democratic Front. The front did not last, but the Socialist Party later merged with PKI. By this time the Pesindo militias were under the control of PKI.
After signing the Renville Agreement in 1948, many of the Republican armed units returned from zones of conflict. This gave the Indonesian right-wing some confidence that they would be able to counter PKI militarily. Guerrilla units and militias under the influence of PKI were ordered to disband. In Madiun a group PKI militaries refused to go along with the disarmament were killed in September the same year. The killings sparked a violent uprising. This provided a pretext to clamp down on the PKI. It was claimed by army sources that PKI had announced the proclamation of the 'Soviet Republic of Indonesia' on 18 September with Musso as its president and Amir Sjarifuddin as its prime minister. At the same time, PKI had denounced the uprising and appealed for calm. The uprising was suppressed by republican troops and PKI passed through yet another period of repression. On 30 September, Madiun was taken over by republican troops of the Siliwangi Division. Thousands of party cadres were killed and 36,000 were imprisoned. Amongst the executed were several leaders including Musso who was killed on 31 October, allegedly while trying to escape from prison. Aidit and Lukman went into exile in the People's Republic of China. However, PKI was not banned and continued to function. The reconstruction of the party began in 1949.
In the 1950s, the party started publishing again, with the main organs being Harian Rakyat and Bintang Merah. The PKI committed itself to a nationalist position under the leadership of Dipa Nusantara Aidit, supporting the anti-colonialist and anti-western policy of the Indonesian president Sukarno. Aidit and the section around him, including young leaders such as Sudisman, Lukman, Njoto and Sakirman, who took charge of the party in 1951. None were more than 30 years old at the time. Under Aidit PKI grew rapidly, from around 3-5 000 in 1950, to 165,000 members in 1954 to 1.5 million in 1959.
Before the election of 1955, PKI favoured Sukarno's plans for 'guided democracy' and was an active supporter of Sukarno. In the 1955 elections PKI came fourth with 16% of the votes and close to 2 million party members. It won 39 seats (out of 257) and 80 out of 514 in the Constituent Assembly. Close to 30 percent of the votes in East Java went towards PKI.
Opposition to the continued Dutch control over Irian Jaya was an issue often raised by PKI during the 1950s.
In July 1957, there was a grenade attack on the PKI office in Jakarta. PKI made advances in municipal elections that same month; in September, the Islamist Masyumi publicly demanded that PKI should be banned.
On 3 December trade unions, largely under control of PKI, started seizing control of Dutch-owned companies. These seizures paved the way for the nationalization of foreign-owned enterprises. The struggles against foreign capitalists gave the PKI the opportunity to profile itself as a national party.
A coup attempt was made by pro-U.S. forces amongst the military and the political right-wing on February 1958. The rebels, based in Sumatra and Sulawesi, proclaimed a Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (Pemerintah Revolusioner Republik Indonesia) on 15 February. The so-called Revolutionary Government immediately began arresting thousands of PKI members in the areas under their control. PKI supported the efforts by Sukarno to quell the rebellion, including introduction of martial law. The rebellion was eventually defeated.
In August 1959 there was an attempt on behalf of the military to prevent the holding of the PKI congress. However the congress was held as scheduled, and was addressed by Sukarno himself. In 1960 Sukarno launched the slogan Nasakom, an abbreviation of Nasionalisme (Nationalism), Agama (Religion), Komunisme (Communism). Thus the role of PKI as a junior partner in the Sukarno polity was institutionalized. The PKI welcomed the launching of the Nasakom concept, seeing it in terms of a multiclass united front.
Although PKI supported Sukarno, it did not lose its political autonomy. In March 1960, the PKI denounced the undemocratic handling of the budget by Sukarno. On 8 July Harian Rakyat carried an article critical of the government. The PKI leadership was arrested by the army, but later released on orders of Sukarno.
With growing popular support and a membership of about 3 million by 1965, the PKI was the strongest communist party outside the socialist states of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. The party had a firm base in various mass organizations, such as the All-Indonesian Central Labour Organisation (Sentral Organisasi Buruh Seluruh Indonesia), People's Youth (Pemuda Rakjat), Indonesian Women's Movement (Gerakan Wanita Indonesia), Peasants Front of Indonesia (Barisan Tani Indonesia), the Institute of People's Culture (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakjat) and the Association of Scholars of Indonesia (Himpunan Sardjana Indonesia). Estimates claim that the total membership of the party and its frontal organizations might have at its peak organized a fifth of the Indonesian population.
In March 1962, PKI joined the government; party leaders Aidit and Njoto were named advisory ministers. The following month, PKI held its party congress. In 1963, the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines engaged in discussions on territorial disputes and the possibility of a Maphilindo Confederation, an idea launched by the Philippine president Diosdado Macapagal. The PKI rejected the ideas of Maphilindo and Malaysian federation. PKI militants crossed over into Malaysian Borneo and engaged in combat against the British, Malaysian, Australian, and New Zealand forces there. Some groups reached the Malay Peninsula, planning to join the struggle there. However, most of them were captured on arrival. Most PKI combat units were active in border regions of Borneo.
In January 1964, PKI started confiscating British properties owned by British companies in Indonesia.
Mass killings and the end of the PKIEdit
Sukarno's balancing act between the PKI, the military, nationalist factions, and Islamic groups was threatened by the PKI's rise. The growing influence of the PKI concerned the United States and other anti-communist western powers. The political and economic situation had become more volatile; annual inflation reached over 600 percent and living conditions for Indonesians worsened.
In December 1964 Chaerul Saleh of the Murba Party (formed by former PKI leader Tan Malaka) claimed that PKI was preparing a coup. The PKI demanded a ban on the Murba Party, which was enforced by Sukarno in early 1965. In the context of Konfrontasi with Malaysia, the PKI called for 'arming the people'. Large sectors of the army were opposed to this. Sukarno remained officially non-committal. In July around 2000 PKI members started military training near Halim Air Force Base. Notably the concept of 'arming the people' had won support among the Air Force and the Navy. On 8 September, PKI demonstrators initiated a two-day siege of the US Consulate in Surabaya. On 14 September, Aidit addressed a PKI rally, urging members to be vigilant of things to come. On 30 September Pemuda Rakyat and Gerwani, both PKI-associated organizations, held a mass rally in Jakarta against the inflation crisis.
On the night of 30 September and 1 October 1965, six of Indonesia's top army generals were killed and their bodies thrown down a well. The generals' killers announced the following morning that the new Revolutionary Council had seized power, calling themselves the "30 September Movement" ("G30S"). With much of the army's top leadership either dead or missing, General Suharto took control of the army and put down the abortive coup by 2 October. The army quickly blamed the coup attempt on the PKI and instigated an Indonesia-wide anti-Communist propaganda campaign. Evidence linking the PKI to the generals' assassinations is inconclusive, leading to speculation that their involvement was very limited, or that Suharto organised the events, in whole or part, and scapegoated the communists. In the ensuing violent anti-communist purge, an estimated 500,000 communists (real and suspected) were killed, and the PKI effectively eliminated (see Indonesian mass killings of 1965–66). General Suharto outmaneuvered Sukarno politically and was appointed president in 1968, consolidating his influence over the military and government.
On 2 October, the Halim base was "captured" by the army. The Harian Rakyat issue carried an article in support of the G30S coup, otherwise the official line of PKI at the time was that the G30S was an internal affair within the armed forces. On 6 October, the Sukarno's cabinet held its first meeting since 30 September. PKI ministers, Njoto, attend. A resolution denouncing G30S was passed. Njoto was arrested directly after the meeting.
A massive manifestation was held in Jakarta two days later, demanding a ban on the PKI. The main office of PKI was burned down. On 13 October, Ansor Youth Movement, the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, held anti-PKI rallies across Java. On 18 October around a hundred PKI were killed by Ansor. The systematic extermination of the party had begun.
Between 100,000 and two million Indonesians were killed in the mass killings that followed. The victims included non-Communists who were slain because of mistaken identity or "guilt by association." However, the lack of information makes it impossible to pinpoint an exact figure of casualties. Many scholars today suggest that the figure is a minimum of 500,000. A CIA study of the events in Indonesia assessed that "In terms of the numbers killed the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century...".
The United States played a significant role in the killings, which included supplying economic, technical and military aid to the Indonesian military once the killings started, and also providing "kill lists" via the U.S. embassy in Jakarta which contained the names of thousands of suspected high-ranking members of the PKI. A tribunal held in the Hague in 2016 concluded the massacres constitute crimes against humanity, and that the U.S. backed the Indonesian military "knowing well that they were embarked upon a programme of mass killings." Declassified U.S. diplomatic cables released in 2017 corroborate this. UCLA Historian Geoffrey B. Robinson argues that the Indonesian Army's campaign of mass killings would not have occurred without the support of the U.S. and other powerful Western governments. According to documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence:
We know that U.S. embassy officials were compiling lists of thousands of names of public figures in Indonesia and handing these to the army and saying, 'Kill everybody on these lists and check off the names as you go, and give the lists back to us when you’re done'.
Time presented the following account on 17 December 1965:
Communists, red sympathizers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of communists after interrogation in remote jails. Armed with wide-bladed knives called parangs, Moslem bands crept at night into the homes of communists, killing entire families and burying their bodies in shallow graves.
The murder campaign became so brazen in parts of rural East Java, that Moslem bands placed the heads of victims on poles and paraded them through villages. The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in East Java and Northern Sumatra where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travelers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies.
Although the motives for the killings seemed political, some scholars argue that the events were caused by a state of panic and political uncertainty. Part of the anti-Communist force that was responsible for the massacres were made up of members of the criminal underworld, given permission to engage in acts of violence. Other motives have been explored, such as running amok or an allusion to Javanese puppet-play (wayang).
Amongst the worst affected areas was the island of Bali, where PKI had grown rapidly prior to the crackdown. On 11 November clashes erupted between the PKI and PNI, ending in massacres of PKI accused members and sympathizers. Whereas much of the anti-PKI pogroms in the rest of the country were carried out by Islamic political organizations, some of the killings in Bali were done by Hindus. Bali stood out as the only place in the country where local soldiers in some way intervened to lessen the slaughter.
On 22 November, Aidit was captured and killed.
In December the military proclaimed that Aceh had been cleared of communists. Simultaneously, Special Military Courts were set up to try jailed PKI members. On 12 March, the party was formally banned by Suharto, and the pro-PKI trade union SOBSI was banned in April.
Some of these tumultuous events were fictionalized in the popular novel and film The Year of Living Dangerously (1982).
In spite of initial sporadic resistance, PKI stood paralyzed after the 1965-1966 killings. As a result of these mass killings, the party's leadership was crippled at all levels, leaving many of its former supporters and sympathizers disillusioned, leaderless, and unorganized. In September 1966, the remnants of the party politburo issued a statement of self-criticism, criticizing the previous cooperation with the Sukarno regime. After the killings of Aidit and Njoto, Sudisman, the fourth-ranking PKI leader before October 1963, took over party leadership. He attempted to rebuild the party on a base of interlocking groups of three members but made little progress before he was captured in December 1966. He was sentenced to death in 1967.
Some cadres of PKI had taken refuge in an isolated region south of Blitar in East Java, following the crackdown on the party. Among the leaders present in Blitar were the Politburo member Rewang, the party theorist Oloan Hutapea, and the East Java leader Ruslan Widjajasastra. Blitar was an underdeveloped area were PKI had strong support among the peasantry. The military was unaware that PKI had been able to consolidate itself there. These PKI leaders were joined by Lieutenant Colonel Pratomo, the former commander of the Pandeglang Military District in West Java, who helped provide military training for the local Communists in Blitar. But in March 1968 violence erupted in Blitar, as local peasants attacked leaders and cadres of Nahdatul Ulama, in retaliation for the role it had played in anticommunist persecutions. Around 60 NU cadres were killed. The Australian political scientist Harold Crouch however argued that it was unlikely that the killings of NU cadres in Blitar had been conducted on the orders of the PKI leaders in Blitar. The military became aware of the PKI enclave and crushed it by mid-1968.
Some party cadres were temporarily outside Indonesia at the time of the 30 September events. Notably a sizeable delegation had traveled to the People's Republic of China to participate in the anniversary celebrations of the Chinese Revolution. Others had left Indonesia to pursue studies in Eastern Europe, particularly in Albania. In exile the party apparatus continued to function. It was, however, largely isolated from political developments inside Indonesia. In Java, some villages that were known to be refuges for members or suspected sympathizers were identified by authorities and were kept under careful watch for a considerable time.
As of 2004[update], former PKI members remain blacklisted from many occupations including government jobs. During his presidency Abdurrahman Wahid invited former PKI exiles to return to Indonesia in 1999, and proposed removing restrictions on open discussion of the communist ideology. In arguing for the removal of the ban, Wahid cited Indonesia's original 1945 constitution, which did not prohibit or even specifically mention communism. Wahid's proposal was vigorously opposed by some sectors of Indonesian society, especially conservative Islamic groups. In an April 2000 protest, a group called the Indonesian Islamic Front rallied ten thousand people in Jakarta against Wahid's proposal. The Army did not immediately reject the proposal, but promised a "comprehensive and meticulous study" of the idea.
Legislative election resultsEdit
|Election||Total seats won||Total votes||Share of votes||Outcome of election||Election leader|
39 / 257
|6,176,914||16.4%||39 seats, Opposition||Dipa Nusantara Aidit|
|1955 Indonesian Constituent Assembly election||
80 / 514
|6,232,512||16.47%||80 seats||Dipa Nusantara Aidit|
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